Coffee in Intag, Ecuador

Coffee in Intag, Ecuador

Coffee to protect one of the most vulnerable regions in Ecuador

The demand for quality coffee is growing worldwide, but coffee production is at risk. Rising temperatures, extreme weather and pests mean that this high-altitude, bean-based crop is running out of cool mountain-sides on which it can flourish. As a result, coffee farmers are struggling to survive.

Intag Valley is located in Ecuador’s Imbabura province. The valley lies in the buffer zone of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, a region which has been strategically designated to preserve the biodiversity of the country, including its many endangered species. The main threat is the action of mining companies which is very harmful to the environment, especially to water sources. To protect their habitat, various local groups have organized protests with varying degrees of success. However, the economic alternatives are also harmful: unchecked, extensive ranching leads to deforestation and the expansion of single-crop farms such as sugarcane plantations reduces biodiversity and destroys the soil. What’s more, neither of these alternatives ensures a stable revenue for the farmers.

To offer a commercially viable alternative to the above options, AACRI farmers’ association proposes coffee fields with an agroforestry system. This system offers an environmentally-friendly production model with stable prices and extra revenues as fruits, ranching and wood production are included in the farms. It also contributes to the food sovereignty of the farmers. AACRI, created in 1998, has 300 members, but only half are active. The association offers assistance at two different stages: during production, it gives credit in the form of inputs and offers technical assistance in the fields. After harvest, it is responsible for the collection, processing and commercialization of the product. It sells both in the international and national markets.

AACRI members come from traditional farming families and own their plots. They have an average of 10 hectares but only use 0.5 hectares for coffee. All of their revenue comes from agricultural activities but this is not enough to cover their basic necessities, leaving them under the poverty threshold. This together with the lack of educational and employment opportunities is leading to a rural exodus.

Challenges

  • Productivity is low at an average of 322kg per hectare, due to inadequate fertilisation and maintenance.
  • Due to low productivity, AACRI cannot fulfil demand which causes some clients to look for new suppliers.
  • Some farmers have problems accessing the credit necessary to make investments.
  • The introduction of new coffee varieties such as Caturra has increased productivity but made the plants more vulnerable to pests.
  • The region has the highest deforestation rate in the whole of Ecuador due to illegal wood trade and mining activities.
  • The water sources are endangered by mining which affects the quality of the soil, decreases productivity.
  • The region is highly vulnerable to the threat of climate change.
  • AACRI as an association lacks the strength to obtain the farmers’ loyalty and is dependent on external aid. It needs to change its structure to ensure its long-term viability.
  • There is no culture of high-quality coffee in Ecuador, so the efforts of producing such a product are not rewarded in the national market.
  • There is a rural exodus especially among the youth.

Our Strategies

  • We will drive negotiations with public and private banks to open financial credit lines adapted to the necessities and characteristics of the sector.
  • To increase production and productivity, we will launch training and a communication campaign for the establishment of Good Agricultural Practices in cultivating coffee according to an agroforestry method.
  • Deforestation, water pollution and climate change are issues too big to face alone, so AACRI will promote alliances between actors to reinforce common strategies in the Regional Coffee Table and other forums.
  • We will promote the creation of demonstration plots to showcase Good Agricultural Practices.
  • To ensure a profitable and sustainable business that does not depend on donors, AACRI has decided to evolve from an association into a cooperative. This process will take 3 years.
  • To ensure youth participation, we will promote their incorporation into the chain making sure they can access credit and buy or inherit land.
  • We will promote the introduction of specialty coffees in the national market through AACRI’s participation in several Ecuadorian fairs. In this way, a high-quality coffee culture can be created in the country.

Achieved results

  • 1000 bundles of coffee were sold, 200 more than the minimum needed to make the cooperative sustainable.
  • AACRI’s business plan has been written up and is in the process of being implemented.

What do we expect to achieve by 2017?

  • The training and communication program will encourage farmers to follow Good Agricultural Practices and expand their plantations, giving AACRI enough produce to fulfil demand.
  • Thanks to the increases in productivity and production the farmers will receive 40% more revenue for their coffee plants.
  • The region will have a common strategy for fighting deforestation, water contamination and climate change.
  • 20 farms will be using Good Agricultural Practices to adapt to climate change. They will set an example for the rest.
  • 3 business models for specialty coffees implementedin the local market.
  • Through Alterfin and other credit cooperatives, AACRI will be able to offer monetary assistance to its members so they can invest.
  • AACRI will become a business with the farmers acting as investors.

What we expect in the long term?

  • Regional deforestation and water contamination will be prevented thanks to a joint effort from all those involved.
  • AACRI will become a fully-fledged company that can compete in the international markets and offer its farmers fair prices and services.
  • Ecuador will develop a high-quality coffee culture.
  • Global coffee production will be secured.